Client: Anna Hiss Gymnasium, The University of Texas at Austin
Location: Austin, TX, United States
Completion date: 2022
Artwork budget: $400,000
Director and Curator
Project Management and Construction Services
Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost
Lord Aeck Sargent
Patrick Sheehy Fine Art Services
Sentinel IV by Simone Leigh represents the first work of public art on campus by a Black female artist. It is located at Anna Hiss Gymnasium, a building that once served as a segregated gym at the center of the Women’s Campus at The University of Texas at Austin. The sculpture was carefully selected for this location and the environment renovated in response to that history.
Leigh creates enigmatic sculptures that are concerned with the empowerment of Black women, often drawing inspiration from everyday objects of the African Diaspora. Modeled after a Zulu ceremonial spoon, Sentinel IV honors Black femininity while also investigating historical and intersecting ideas of race, beauty, and the association of Black women’s bodies with work.
The sculpture was acquired before the landscape architects were selected in 2019, and it determined every aspect of this public gathering space. As a result, Sentinel IV serves as the focal point of the building’s courtyard and can be contemplated from any position within it.
Cast in bronze and standing more than ten feet tall, the figure is watchful and observant, emanating a powerful presence. It aims to signal that all are seen, and all are worth seeing.
This project is the first in Landmark’s history where an entire environment was conceived and created around a work of art. Landmarks worked closely with the project’s landscape architects, Lord Aeck Sargent and Asakura Robinson, to design a garden that complements and celebrates Leigh’s sculpture. The oval patterns of the courtyard, with its feminine curves and surrounding benches, directs all eyes toward Sentinel IV.
Significant is the placement of the sculpture on direct axis with the building entrance. This enables views from the main pedestrian mall on campus, visible through a breezeway that frames the sculpture as you approach it. In addition to anchoring the architectural symmetry, the orientation evokes a long legacy of honorific bronzes of rulers and statesmen; sculptures sited at building entrances meant to claim and dominate space. By using the same spatial language, the placement of Sentinel IV subverts traditional expectations and creates new complex meanings.
From the outset it was determined that the courtyard would avoid programmatic uses such as classes or events. Instead, it has become unique from other public spaces on campus by offering a place solely for quiet contemplation and reflection.
The selection of this sculpture arose from a recognition of the gendered and racial history of the campus. The courtyard was the center of social and physical activity for women during the 1930s, at a time of racial and gender segregation. To acknowledge that history, we intentionally selected a woman artist who celebrates the feminine form, and Black women’s bodies in particular. Today Sentinel IV—and the care taken to design its surrounds—responds to the site’s history and signals that today, all are welcome.